On Thursday, October 16, 2008, President Bush signed H.R. 6296 into law, extending the Commission's Administrative Fine Program for late- and non-filed reports for an additional five years. Under the new law, the Administrative Fine Program will apply to reports covering periods that end on or before December 31, 2013. This bill, introduced by Representatives Robert Brady (PA), Vernon Ehlers (MI) and Zoe Lofgren (CA), provides the program with its longest extension since its inception.
The Administrative Fine Program was created in 1999 by amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act that authorized the Commission to assess civil money penalties for committees that failed to file reports on time or at all, and for campaign committees that failed to file 48-hour notices. 2 USC §437g(a)(4)(C); 11 CFR 111.30 to 111.46. As of the end of fiscal year 2008, the Commission has assessed fines of $3,177,607 and closed 1,641 cases under the Administrative Fine Program.
As Representative Lofgren explained on the floor of the House of Representatives, the Administrative Fine Program "allows the FEC to quickly resolve minor violations of the [Federal Election Campaign Act] and concentrate its resources on more complex enforcement matters. The fines program also assures political and candidate committees that they can resolve minor errors by paying a fixed monetary penalty, avoiding a long and potentially complicated enforcement process." She also explained that "there has been a significant decrease in the number of late and nonfiled reports since the start of this program." Compared to increases in the number of political committees, the number of reports due, and the amount of financial activity disclosed on those reports, a decrease in the absolute number of late and nonfiled reports marks a significant achievement in encouraging compliance.
Representative Ehlers described H.R. 6296 and the Administrative Fine Programs as follows: "This bill is not a glamorous one...Nonetheless, it is an important program designed to protect our Nation's campaign process from being thwarted by insisting upon the utmost transparency if an individual chooses to seek public office."
At the Commission, the Administrative Fine Program has enjoyed bipartisan support. On four separate occasions, the Commission issued Legislative Recommendations seeking to extend or make it permanent, and each recommendation received a unanimous, bipartisan vote of the Commissioners. Additionally, during 2008, then-Chairman David Mason and Vice Chair Ellen Weintraub worked with Congress to ensure that it would renew the legislative authority for the Administrative Fine Program.